REVIEW: Descendent #1 is driven by deep mysteries and authentic characters

Descendent #1 is out 5/1/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — From the moment I paused to take in Descendent #1’s trippy, psychedelic, and slightly sinister cover by Juan Doe, I knew I was in for something different. The imagery on the cover here really sets an interesting tone. It’s powerful, perplexing, and maybe even a little dangerous. It’s all abstract, yet it manages to evoke a shadowy danger coursing throughout history, which the preview text for this book mentions heavily. It’s a really impressive cover, bolstering the narrative before it even starts, and the rest of the comic grows through the tone set there.

Let’s start with a primer. Descendent #1 is the latest new series from AfterShock Comics. In addition to the excellent Juan Doe cover, it features interior art by Evgeniy Bornyakov with colors from Lauren Affe and lettering by Troy Peteri. Most intriguing, at least for me, is that this book is written by Stephanie Phillips. Phillips is a great writer, coming off a miniseries with Black Mask called Devil Within, which wrapped last week. Writers who can craft an intriguing plot and pitch are common in modern comics. Indeed, the medium right has almost a surplus of ideation, of concepts built to be nuanced yet accessible, perfect for movies and TV. Phillips’ work so far has been of this ilk too, but what really sets her writing apart for me is the way it handles characters.

Indeed, this book is filled with dynamic and flawed people. People who think they’re too smart, who want to beat their in-laws in fantasy football, who complain about the humidity. Phillips gives them conversational off-handed remarks that hum right by, helping them feel fully-realized without slowing down our plot. It’s a great way to approach a book that deals in conspiracy, a topic a significant portion of the audience (myself included) has been conditioned to basically dismiss. Throughout reading Descendent #1 my brain was scoffing at the very notion of conspiracies without disengaging from the plot because the people involved all felt so real.

This is, from start to finish, a story that dances on the edge between feeling all too real and exploring the problematic rabbit hole that is a growing national undercurrent of belief in conspiracies. It looks great, too, with Bornyakov, Affe, and Peteri all making choices with their individual crafts that really serve the ambition of the script. It all adds up to a suspenseful and surprisingly dense read with a great central mystery. There’s also some really smart real world references thrown in here—thinking specifically of the anecdote about MK-Ultra, the CIA-sponsored research project from the ‘50s into whether the human brain could be controlled and manipulated by psychedelic substances like psilocybin or LSD—that also heighten the immersive feeling of authenticity. Basically, I came into this comic wondering if we needed another story about conspiracies, and I finished the reading fully convinced that we definitely need this story about conspiracies. I can’t wait to see where it all goes.    

Overall: Descendent #1 might have the makings of a huge book. I know I found this first issue to be absolutely immersive and riveting, driven as it is by realistic characters and a great core mystery. 9.0/10

Descendent #1
Stephanie Phillips
Artist: Evgeniy Bornyakov
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99

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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.